Patrick earns career-best finish at Atlanta
September 01, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- A buoyant Danica Patrick was fresh from a drive she said felt like 700 miles Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Perhaps it was because of the way the race -- actually 515.9 miles in length -- played out like chapters in a good book, with the story getting better and more involved by the end.
Patrick's story was one of success in the Oral-B USA 500 as she rallied from a 27th-place starting spot for a sixth-place finish, her career-best in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The result marked the best finish by a woman at the Georgia track, besting the 10th-place effort that Janet Guthrie achieved here in March 1978.
Patrick's previous best was a seventh-place run at similar Kansas Speedway this May. While her performance on intermediate-sized tracks has improved in the races since, she attributed another unique factor for the performance uptick.
"Well, I got that in-car camera out of the car and I'm pretty sure that's why we had a good weekend because we had it for four weeks in a row," Patrick said. "We were all right some of them. No, I'm kidding -- it's good to have that, but that was my joke at the beginning of the weekend. Since that solid run like this at Kansas, I mean honestly we've been so much faster and qualified much better. It's just whether something fails or I make a mistake or there's an accident or something like that, there were just so many things that kept putting us out of contention and wrecking our weekends.
"This weekend, we just didn't have that and we fought hard at the beginning and were at a good place at the end. ... We've all been looking for a really good weekend after what we've been going through lately."
Patrick fought a tight handling condition in the early going, falling a lap down twice because of the rapid pace set by early race leader Kevin Harvick. She received the free pass back onto the lead lap in two of the first three caution periods, then began her march toward the front, her car's handling improving as the night went on.
"Then from there on out, it was smooth sailing and the car was really good," Patrick said. "Man, I had one run where I felt like I was playing a video game out there. I was just driving around the top side of everybody. It was a little more human-like after that."
Her closing kick brought her to as high as fourth place in the running order and within a hair of her first-ever top-five right behind former Atlanta winner Carl Edwards. She remained in contention thanks to a quick 12.2-second stop from her Stewart-Haas Racing crew on her final trip to pit road, and managed to avoid the chaos from the pair of green-white-checkered finishes at the end.
"Solid, solid finish," Patrick said. "I was hoping for a top-five right down there at the line with Carl, but sixth place is definitely something to be happy about, and I was hoping for a solid top-15, so that's much better."